Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have issued a joint communique on disputes in the South China Sea, an Indonesian official said on Friday, after Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa shuttled between five Asean countries to build a consensus.
A joint statement from Asean’s foreign ministers said member states had reaffirmed “the non-use of force by parties” in the sea.
Friday’s statement came more than a week after Asean foreign ministers failed for the first time to issue a joint declaration at the conclusion of their annual meeting. Host Cambodia had rejected a proposal by the Philippines and Vietnam to make specific references to their separate territorial disputes with China in the statement.
China and several Southeast Asian countries have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Chinese and Philippine ships have been engaged in a standoff in one disputed area since April.
The new statement calls in general terms for the implementation of Asean-promoted principles for the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes.
Since Wednesday, Natalegawa has been meeting his counterparts in Manila, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore following the unprecedented failure to issue a joint declaration after a summit.
“We are trying so that other decisions made by the foreign ministers will be formulated in a different instrument for follow up. The non-existence of a joint communique is behind us,” Natalegawa told Reuters.
“You can only have an Asean that is central in the region if Asean itself is united and cohesive,” he added.
“Last week we were tested, there have been some difficulties, but we have grown the wiser from it. Indonesia took the initiative to recalibrate Asean through the 36-hour effort, shuttle diplomacy, visits and working the phones and we can now reach a common position again on the South China Sea.”
Indonesia has proposed six basic principles in a bid to quell ongoing tensions, which Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene said had been agreed to by all Asean member states.
“The principle is very fundamental and works in all weather,” he said.
Among the principles proposed by Indonesia are for Asean countries to remain committed to the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea, signed by the disputing countries in November 2002, as well as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Both of these agreements call for peaceful resolutions to disputes and for an avoidance of violence.
“As chair or not, Indonesia is always active in Asean,” Tene said. “All member countries share the same responsibility to build Asean and each contributes in overcoming common obstacles and issues.”
Additional reporting from Reuters, AP & DPA